Showing posts with label fake news. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fake news. Show all posts

Monday 5 September 2022

Who Do You Believe?

Who Do you believe? 

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of Tim Marshall's fascinating book, Prisoners of Geography:  Ten Maps that Explain Everything about the World. (Thanks Tom!)  In Prisoners of Geography, Marshall claims that "The Germans were involved in the machinations that overthrew Ukraine's President Yanukovych in 2014 [. . .] (102).  Out of curiosity, I googled "Germany involvement Ukraine overthrow."  Two websites came up as most relevant--World Socialist Web Site and Vox Ukraine--neither of which answered my question but they gave rise to another question:  Who do you believe?

What We say is information; what they say is disinformation

The article entitled "The 2014 coup in Ukraine" on the World Socialist Web Site begins:

The background and implications of the 2014 far-right coup in Kiev, which overthrew the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, is critical for understanding the current Ukraine-Russia war. This coup was openly supported by US and European imperialism and implemented primarily by far-right shock troops such as the Right Sector and the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party.

It represented the temporary culmination of long-standing efforts by US imperialism to install a puppet regime on the borders of Russia and brought the world a major step closer to a war between the largest nuclear powers, the US and Russia. Ukraine has since been systematically built up as a launching pad for a NATO war against Russia.

The second most relevant URL was a Vox Ukraine article entitled "The Maidan in 2014 is a coup d’etat: a review of Italian and German pro-Russian media."  The article is presented as "fact checking" and offers examples of "fake news" and "the truth" which contradicts this "fake news."

Fake: The Maidan in 2014 is a coup d’etat

Since 2014, the German publication RT.DE has mentioned Maidan in numerous publications as a place where a coup d’etat took place in Ukraine. A number of Italian media outlets, including and Glindifferenti, share this view.  [. . . .]

What is the truth?

Allegations of an alleged coup d’etat in the downtown of Kyiv are typical rhetoric of the Kremlin, which thus justifies its own aggression. Putin himself mentions it again and again [. . . .]

The Revolution of dignity [aka Maidan Uprising] has absolutely no signs of a coup d’etat .

 So, Who do you believe?

I have reviewed a number of articles, essays and polls in my modest search for my own modest version of the truth--what is coherent, based on the known and/or agreed-upon facts, and follows logically.  The challenge is to separate fact from opinion and, more importantly, fact from spin.

The Agreed-upon facts

Despite the semantic debate, hyperbole, the divergent characterization of the various agents, the word choices and loaded vocabulary, and the inclusion or exclusion of particular details, a number of agreed-upon facts do emerge:

  1. The President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in 2014. 
  2. Over one hundred people were killed in the process of overthrowing Yanukovych.   
  3. The USA supported the overthrow of Yanukovych. 
  4. The demonstrations, protests and eventual overthrow occurred when Yanukovych withdrew from a trade agreement with the EU. 
  5. What happened in 2014 and how it is interpreted matter:  they affect how we understand the war in Ukraine today.

Interpretations and Spin of the agreed-upon facts 

I can immediately imagine individuals disputing these "facts," suggesting alternative "facts," or dismissing these five facts as irrelevant.  However, based on my reading, these five facts are agreed-upon, self-evident, and unchallenged by both sides of the debate.  I highlight both sides to immediately point out that I am not talking about a Russian side or a Ukrainian side or a US side or a NATO or European or Communist or Democratic side.  There is a divergence of opinion in each of these cohorts and I immediately dismiss claims that "this is what all Ukrainians think" or "this is what all Russians think" or "this is what all Americans think."  The "sides" in this case are those that claim a coup in 2014 and those that deny a coup in 2014.  I have written on this blog that the evidence of a coup seems strong, even obvious and overt.  The fact that I now see significant effort to deny that the Maidan Uprising was "a coup" tells me that the question of a coup is an important one.   

1. The President of Ukraine was overthrown. Deniers of a coup will add that Yanukovych was a powerful oligarch, corrupt, a Russian puppet and showing signs of becoming a dictator.  What deniers leave unsaid is that Yanukovych was democratically elected.  Yanukovych's election was overseen by "Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [who] said there were no indications of serious fraud and described the vote as an 'impressive display' of democracy."

2. People died in the overthrow.  According to the National Memorial to the Heavenly Hundred Heroes' description of the "Revolution of Dignity," the Maidan began with 1500 protestors, mostly students, but grew to hundreds of thousands in response to Ukrainian security forces' beating some of the students. The National Memorial reports that 

On the 61st day of Maidan, at the place of protests, the first two activists were shot. As at that moment, there were already two dead outside the places of confrontation. It was around a month when the power structure tried to clean up the city centre from protesters.

Only in the night of 22 February 2014, President Yanukovich escaped to Russia by using a charter jet. The amount of 108 victims of the Revolution of Dignity was officially determined. Most of the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred died from fire wounds on 20 February 2014.

According to Wikipedia's "List of people killed during the Revolution of Dignity," there were 130 victims.  The Wikipedia list includes 18 police officers.  BBC news video reports show protestors being fired upon and police being fired upon by protestors.

3. USA supported the overthrow.  Over the last eight years, the USA's support for post-2014 Ukraine has been displayed in increasingly bold and frequent headlines.  We know that under both presidents Biden and Trump the USA has sent tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. We know that within weeks of the February 2014 overthrow, the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, was in Ukraine.  Two months after the overthrow, Vice-President Joe Biden was in Ukraine to give a press conference with the American choice to lead the government, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and to promise Ukrainians on behalf of the USA, "we’re in the struggle for your very future." We know that individuals from both the US government and the CIA have praised CIA collaboration in Ukraine.  But what about in February 2014 and earlier?  We know about the infamous Nuland/Pyatt telephone conversation planning the post-overthrow government and power structure before the overthrow happened.  And, of course, we know that Nuland and Pyatt made themselves available for various photo-ops with the Maidan demonstrators and the eventual over-throwers.  We also know of complaints in the Ukrainian parliament in 2013 about TechCamps being run in the US embassy in Kyiv to promote civil unrest.  In this context, what truly surprises me is that in the various denials of a coup I have read there is no mention of the USA or American involvement.

4. Uprising began when the President withdrew from a trade agreement with the EU. Withdrawal from a trade agreement seems an insufficient cause for the chaos and bloodshed which followed.  Clearly the failed negotiations of the trade agreement provided a context for the uprising but what were the underlying reasons?  One side argues that in addition to being friendly with Moscow, Yanukovych was making moves toward dictatorship enforced by his security apparatus.  The other claims that the uprising was a power grab spearheaded by ultra-nationalist Neo-Nazis.  Neither of these claims is a sufficient explanation for the sudden large-scale uprising. Both sides blame the other for the escalation in violence and bloodshed.  Both sides were prepared to use deadly force and eventually did.  

As a Canadian, I try to imagine a similar situation here, and there are some parallels between Canada and Ukraine.  Like Ukraine, Canada is often geopolitically divided between east and west.  More specifically the independence movements in the Donbas and Crimea are at least superficially similar to Quebec's aspirations for greater autonomy and even sovereignty.  In Canada, we have come to accept that in order for a Prime Minister and his party to be elected, they must have support in French-speaking Quebec.  As reported in the New York Times, President Yanukovych and his Regions Party depended on strong support from Ukraine's eastern provinces in order to be elected.  As in Canada, language tensions are a constant feature of Ukrainian politics.  28% of Ukrainians speak Russian, most living in the eastern regions; 22% of Canadians speak French, most living in Quebec.  The difference I see is there has, historically, been a strong movement to make Ukrainian the national language to the detriment of Russian and other minority languages.  Western Canadians may not always like it but, for the most part, have come to accept the French language and asymmetrical power-sharing with Quebec as facts of life in Canada.

Am I suggesting that the Maidan Uprising can be understood as a language issue?  Absolutely not.  I am suggesting a myriad of causes--no single one being sufficient-- which coalesced around the EU trade negotiations with the catalyst of US support and encouragement.

5. What Happened in 2014 matters

– unconstitutionality;
- violent character;
– a small number of organizers and participants;
- seizure of power as the main goal.

5.1 Unconstitutionality. At face value, the events of the Maidan Uprising satisfy each of these criteria.  However, the article argues that the overthrow of the democratically elected President was constitutional on the grounds that "the only source of power in Ukraine is the people."  The argument echoes Vice President Joe Biden's speech of 22 April 2014, "that all Ukrainians can agree on the core idea that government exists to serve the people.  The people do not exist to serve the government." It is, of course, a slippery claim that "the people" have the constitutional right to overthrow the elected government, especially for President Joe Biden, as he now presents the counter argument in the context of the January 6 attempts to overthrow the election results in the US.

5.2 Violent character. In denying the violent character of events, the National Memorial claims that 

The violent actions of the authorities forced the protesters to use means of self-defense, mostly homemade shields, helmets, batons, and "Molotov cocktails." Therefore, the use of self-defense by protesters was forced, provoked by the criminal actions of those in power [ . . .].

However in a paper entitled "The 'Snipers' Massacre' on the Maidan in Ukraine" presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in 2015,  Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa concludes

[ . . .] that the massacre was a false flag operation, which was rationally planned and carried out with a goal of the overthrow of the government and seizure of power. [The study] found various evidence of the involvement of an alliance of the far right organizations, specifically the Right Sector and Svoboda, and oligarchic parties, such as Fatherland. Concealed shooters and spotters were located in at least 20 Maidan-controlled buildings or areas. The various evidence that the protesters were killed from these locations include some 70 testimonies, primarily by Maidan protesters, several videos of “snipers” targeting protesters from these buildings, comparisons of positions of the specific protesters at the time of their killing and their entry wounds, and bullet impact signs.

In the detailed evidence and analysis of his 80-page report, Katchanovski makes a brief reference to the fact Globe and Mail reporter Paul Waldie was in the Hotel Ukraine, a stronghold of the Maidan protestors, during the massacre, and witnessed protestors carrying guns which were used to kill police and, according to Katchanovski, their fellow protestors in order to discredit the government.  In his report for the Globe and Mail, "Globe in Kiev: Yanukovych regime’s hold is shaken after a deadly day," Waldie recounts that

Some protesters had guns as well and at least one could be seen taking aim at officers. A group of protesters, some carrying guns, also rushed into the hotel in the morning to get a better vantage point to attack police across the street. At least 37 people died, with some reports putting the figure as high as 70. Several hundred were also wounded.

In the body of his study, Katchanovski claims that Maidan protestors were the first to use deadly force, i.e. "live ammunition": "analyses of various sources of evidence indicate that the cease-fire agreement was broken by the Maidan side in the early morning, when small groups of armed protesters started to shoot from the Music Conservatory building with live ammunition [. . . ]." 

5.3 A small number of organizers and participants. For deniers of a coup, the "Revolution of Dignity" (aka Maidan Uprising) was the will of the great majority of the Ukrainian people.  For example, both Vox Ukraine and the National Memorial claim that over 8.5 million Ukrainians, 20% of the population, took part in protests against the government during the Revolution of Dignity.  The evidence for these numbers is a poll carried out in Ukraine in October 2014.

According to a sociological poll conducted in October 2014 by the Ilko Kucheriv Foundation for Democratic Initiatives, about 20% of Ukraine’s population, more than 8.5 million people, took part in peaceful rallies. The poll showed that most citizens perceived participating in the protests as a conscious struggle for their rights.

However, the poll being referred to  did not claim "8.5 million people took part in peaceful rallies" nor did it show "that most citizens perceived participating in the protests as a conscious struggle for their rights." According to the poll data,11% of the 2,025 respondents (i.e., 223 people) claimed to have "participated in Euromaidan events" and 9% "helped the protestors" in some way. Given the context of the survey within celebrations of the Revolution of Dignity, it is perhaps more striking that 81.6% of interviewees responded "I did not participate."

Contrary to the claim that "The poll showed that most citizens perceived participating in the protests as a conscious struggle for their rights," the poll actually showed that 37.9% shared this perception and the great majority of them were from Western Ukraine; i.e., 70.5%.  According to the poll (being cited by coup deniers), 31.2% of respondents perceived the Euromaidan/Revolution of Dignity/Maidan Uprising to be a "coup d'état."

What, in your opinion, was Euromaidan? Regional differences







Ukraine in general

A coup d'état carried out with the support of the West







A coup d'état to be prepared by the political opposition







Spontaneous protest of the population







Conscious struggle of citizens united to protect their rights















5.4 Seizure of power as main goal.  In denying a coup, the National Memorial claims that the goal of the Maidan Uprising was not "seizure of power" but "the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU."  The claim is followed by a list of idealistic ambitions almost none of which were achieved following Maidan.  The "seizure of power" may not have been the intended goal in everyone's mind, but we know with certainty that the major figures behind the Maidan did come to power in the aftermath:  most notably, Petro Poroshenko became President, Arseniy Yatsenyu became Prime Minister, and Vitali Klitschko became Mayor of Kyiv.

And, of course, what is left out of denials of a coup is the role of western governments.  As outlined in the Globe and Mail, 20 February 2014--"Canada imposes new sanctions on senior Ukrainian officials"--Canada, the USA and the EU had shown their strong support for the Maidan Uprising in advance of the overthrow of the Viktor Yanukovych government.  Whatever your opinion of Maidan as a coup or not, we can agree that understanding the war means understanding Maidan.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Lies, Lies, Nothing but Lies! Oh, Wait a Minute, There’s a Bit of Truth There . . .

Analyzing Fiction

There has never been a better time to be a specialist in analyzing fiction.  Alvin Kernan’s The Death of Literature notwithstanding, there may still be hope for the study of “literature”; a.k.a., “the lies that tell the truth.”

Sarah Palin in a bikini! [click the link please!]

Fake News Is News

In the wake of the American presidential election, there has been a tidal wave of discussion online, on television and in the press about “fake news.”  One television news show I saw recently claimed that fake news stories outnumber “real” news stories (whatever “real” means) by a ratio of three to one, and fake news is viewed online tens times as frequently as its conservative cousin. Of course, the television news show in question was quoting online sources, raising the question “Is the news about ‘fake news’ fake?”

Fraudsters Target the Illiterate and Less Literate

Have you noticed that when you receive one of those fraudulent email messages trying to lure you to send money—you know, the ones that say my uncle in Nigeria has left me a multi-million-dollar inheritance, but I need your help to get it—those messages are full of grammar and spelling mistakes.  The mistakes are deliberate because the messages are designed to target people who are less educated, who cannot read well enough to detect the mistakes, and are therefore more susceptible to the fraud that the senders are attempting to perpetrate.

Understand What a Text Is Trying to Do to You

Other than going incommunicado and surrendering to the life of a recluse, the only defense against online frauds and fakes and misinformation in general is the ability to read.  Usually when people talk about reading they mean the ability to interpret alphabetic symbols marked on paper or a screen—and that’s what I mean most of the time when I talk about reading.  However, we also “read” images, numbers, people, situations, in fact, the entire world around us.  Anything we can read—which is just about everything—can be called “a text.”  

I would habitually tell university students that when you are reading a written text it is important to realize, at the outset, that someone is trying to do something to you.  The text might be designed to persuade, convince, enrage, shock, seduce, insult, confuse, convert, appease, hypnotize, pacify, inform, educate, or discourage you—and there are a thousand other possibilities.   As a practiced and skilled reader, you need to constantly consider what is being done (or attempted to be done) to you.  An educated reader begins her engagement with the text with an attitude of skepticism.  The attitude of an educated reader is to doubt, but if you are going to engage with or even enjoy a text to some degree you must consent, you must accept, as least provisionally to what is being done to you.  

Suspension of Disbelief

This process has long been recognized in literary studies.  It even has a name:  “suspension of disbelief.”  If you are going to enjoy a work of fiction, you must allow yourself to read as if it were all true—which, of course, invites the question of how to enjoy a postmodern novel where the author constantly intervenes to remind you that you are reading fiction.  The sophisticated reader is supposed to know how to believe in just the right degree.  There is even a threadbare old joke to make the point:  a country bumpkin announcing in a loud whisper as the ghost of King Hamlet appears behind Prince Hamlet:  “Ohh, he’s gonna shit when he sees that ghost!”

Resistant Reading

In contrast, postmodern feminism has given us the “resistant reading”  whereby unwary women are instructed to approach the slippery ideological seductions of Andre Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress” and Leonard Cohen’s “As the Mist Leaves No Scar” with caution.

That’s the fun stuff—the situations where the possibility of salutary readings are at least possible to imagine.  How do we deal with a digital universe in which 40% of what we read are outright lies and another 49% are out-of-context fibs, shadings of the truth, conspiracy theories, sales pitches and spin-doctoring?  (Please don’t quote my made-up percentages, but note that I have left 11% of space for facts, intelligent discourse, captions about cats and vacuity.)   The only viable countermeasure to being lied to, fooled, misinformed and defrauded is the ability to read.  

The Antidote to Fake News Is Reading 

. . . which returns me to the information which I cited in a previous post (How Many Americans Believe that Planet Earth Is Only 6000 Years Old) that 14% of Americans are illiterate and 21% of adults in the USA read below a grade 5 level.   Even as I quoted the article I found myself wondering if I wasn’t promulgating bogus statistics.  If I am going to post on the malaise of “fake news” and the antidote of effective reading, I have to make some effort to ensure that I am not spreading “fake news.”  I take as a basic truth underlying claims about illiteracy rates in both the USA and Canada that the reading skills of the population as a whole are well below where they should be—even though definitions of “illiteracy” are much debated and the measurement of reading skills always in question.

Why Reading a Book Matters

I also take the ability to read a book as the true measure of the capacity to read.  Having the skills and acumen required to hold on to the coherence and pattern of a text over hundreds of pages is the ultimate test of reading.  This coherence might be the connection between a hypothesis and statistical evidence, or the ongoing inductive and deductive reasoning that supports an argument, or details of plot, character and setting.  Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, this level of reading ability also means being able to spot inconsistencies, incongruities, outright contradictions, lacunae, logical fallacies, flawed writing and rhetorical smoke 'n' mirrors. 

Fake News Is the News We Want to Believe

"Fake news" is news that is oddly familiar; moreover, it is typically news that we would like to believe.  Every conspiracy theory contains a spattering of irrefutable facts; every fiction large chunks of reality.  The ability to read is not just being able to identify words on a page; the key to reading is understanding how the words connect together, and how collections of words work together and beyond--or don't.  More than the words themselves, it is the space between words that matter.  Making connections is making meaning.  Making the right connections--and spotting the disconnections--is getting the meaning right.

Fragments of News Convince Us that We Are Right and Knowledgable

However, we live in the age of headlines and captions and twitter.  We are bombarded with fragments of information on the assumption that we cannot or will not read sufficiently to question the ersatz.  As a result, we are all becoming lesser readers every day, more entrenched in the dogma of whatever we happen to believe at the outset, convinced of whatever panders to our current convictions and outrage, and unwilling or unable to read further.


I may think myself a pretty good reader, but this bit of "fake news" fooled me.  It fooled me for a few of the typical reasons.  I'd heard it a couple of times, then years later I got this image, which looks convincing, emailed to me.  It is fake,

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